A class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against Houston, Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline arising out of the May 19, 2015 oil pipeline spill that discharged over 100,000 gallons of toxic crude oil onto beaches and into the ocean along the Santa Barbara County coastline. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of over 3,000 beachfront property owners from Point Conception to the Mexico border. (United States District Court, Central District of Calif., Case No. 2:15-cv-04759-DMG-AS)
The lawsuit alleges that Plains’ 24-inch-wide Line 901 pipeline that runs for 10 miles adjacent to the shoreline lacked an automatic shut-off system that would have prevented such a large oil spill from occurring. When the pipeline was built in 1987, according to the lawsuit, Santa Barbara County demanded that a shut-off system be installed and that the county inspect the welds on the pipeline. Instead, the defendants sued, arguing that the county lacked the authority to force it to install an automatic shut-off system or inspect its pipeline.
“This was no accident,” says A. Barry Cappello, managing partner of Cappello & Noël LLP, the Santa Barbara law firm representing the plaintiff in the case. “This was a total disregard of safety measures on the part of Plains. Federal agencies have cited Plains for at least 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006. It’s paid millions of dollars in fines. This is the way Plains operates. It plays fast and loose when it comes to safety and now property owners, wildlife, the environment and all those who enjoy the California coastline are paying a very high price.”
As the Santa Barbara City Attorney in 1969, Cappello was the chief litigator against Union Oil, Mobil, Gulf and Texaco for a massive Santa Barbara Channel oil spill. The disaster and the ensuing litigation awakened the nation’s consciousness to the dangers to the environment and the consequences if not protected.
“Ocean and beachfront properties along California’s Pacific Coast are highly desirable and valuable places to live,” says Cappello. “Property owners had enjoyed unspoiled sand and water and direct access to fishing, surfing and other water sports. These waters are home to a wide variety of fish, birds and aquatic mammals. All this is now damaged by the spill and the damage and threat of additional spills will likely last decades.”
The oil spill’s impact has spread beyond Santa Barbara County. Results of studies released June 22 by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and UC Santa Barbara show tar balls from the spill are washing up on Ventura County and Los Angeles County beaches.
The Santa Barbara County Health Department recommends that residents avoid the areas affected by the spill, and not come in direct contact with oil or inhale the fumes, which can cause skin irritation, nausea, vomiting and other illnesses. “This can be difficult to do when you live next to the contaminated ocean,” says Lawrence Conlan, a Cappello & Noël partner working on the case.
The named plaintiff, a family trust, owns beachfront real property just north of Refugio State Beach along the Santa Barbara County coast. “Their property has been blackened by oil, tar balls and oil sheen from the spill,” says Conlan. “It has had a devastating effect on the beauty and tranquility of the coast. These are two of the most important qualities that encourage people to own beachfront property, and it is now despoiled by this spill and constant threat of future spills.”
The Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (California Government Code § 8670, et seq.) and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (33 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.) were both cited as bases for causes of action in the lawsuit.
Santa Barbara Oil Spill & Class Action Case News:
Refugio Oil Spill Likely More Larger Than Projected
Santa Barbara Independent, August 5, 2015
Refugio Oil Spill Shows Companies Haven’t Learned Lesson After 46 Years
Op-Ed, Pacific Coast Business Times, July 17, 2015
Homeowner Files Class-Action Suit Over Refugio Oil Spill
Santa Barbara Noozhawk, June 25, 2015
Homeowners Sue Plains All American Pipeline for Refugio Oil Spill
Santa Barbara Independent, June 25, 2015
Homeowner Sues Pipeline Firm in Santa Barbara County Oil Spill
Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2015